Thursday, 29 September 2011

So, are you Downton or Spooks?

In days gone by, facing a ‘TV schedule clash’ was a very serious business.

If there were two television shows you desperately wanted to see (and Betamax video recorders hadn’t been invented let alone Sky+), then you simply had to miss one of the programmes. It would often cause fury and debate within the national press as people let off steam about those horrible, faceless TV schedulers who had so little respect for people’s viewing habits. How dare they!

Of course, nowadays this shouldn’t happen. Most people have ways of recording two or even three shows at the same time and many people almost ignore the TV schedules now and record shows to watch when they actually want to.

Even so, there is still something about watching a programme at the same time as you know others are watching it, particularly if you know it will be the subject of the office, school or bus stop conversation the following day.

In recent years that particular ‘what to watch’ battle has been fought mainly with Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor – the big Saturday night battleground –- but now those pesky schedulers have done it again by plotting two of the most engaging modern TV dramas up against one another in the normally genteel 9pm Sunday slot.

For, as you will have seen from debates in the press and on the radio, we are still capable of getting angry when two highly-watchable shows go out at the same time and that is certainly what is happening at the moment with the battle between the modern day Upstairs Downstairs – Downton Abbey – and that wonderful spy feast Spooks.

Although both shows have been criticised for not being completely accurate in terms of the scope of the areas they cover, what unites them both is they are just great fun and real ‘talkabout’ TV.

Downton is glossy, colourful, bright and expensive to look at (all of which makes it something of a surprise that it is on ITV) while Spooks has been a genuine televisual feast for many years now and has made us all feel safer in our beds knowing that Harry is protecting us from all those nasty people in the world.

On the surface these two shows are very different but they have attracted similar audiences – and hence people who are angry about the scheduling – because they share the qualities of good writing, good production values, good acting and good story telling.

We may have more television channels than we’ve ever had but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have more quality – both of these shows are exactly that and that’s why we care about them both.

So far in the great battle I’ve gone for watching Downton ‘live’ and Spooks the night after but as the latter was utterly brilliant this week, I may be tested again when Sunday night arrives.

Of colurse nowadays TV is not something many of us watch all the time as we may have done in the past but what this shows is we still do make an effort to watch or record things that interest us. We have all become television schedulers now – and you could argue we’re better at doing it than those whose actual job it is.

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